To wing, or not to wing…

I received the estimate for swapping my chillers today (from Cruisair to Technicold). The cost was somewhat painful, but less than I had expected. I green-lighted the change. The new chillers are infinitely simpler. There are two chillers, each with nothing more than an on/off breaker. 

And speaking of simplicity, I received this email from a Nordhavn buyer who is deciding what equipment to put on his boat. His email, and my response follow.

-Ken W

PS I goofed on my font selection yesterday, and my blog entry displayed as “greek” for many of you. If you missed yesterday’s blog, you can get it by clicking here.


Hi Ken:

Hey, I have an important question. Let me preface by saying that I’ve been boating all my adult life and have never experienced an engine failure. I’ve damaged props and had to limp in, but the engine always worked. Now for the question: I am about to buy a Nordhavn 60 and don’t feel the need to include a wing engine. I know most of the Nordhavns built have wing engines, but there are entire commercial fishing fleets whose boats only have single screws. I figure it’s a lot of money and extra maintenance so why do it? I know the extra engine is like insurance, but still how many people do you know who could not get home on their main? Thank you in advance for giving my question your consideration!





Greetings J:


Welcome to the ranks of Nordhavn owners!


Here’s the argument for NOT needing a wing engine:


• it is highly unlikely you’d ever have an engine fail, and if you are technically proficient, then the odds are heavy that, if your main engine were to fail, you would be able to fix the problem. If for some reason the main did fail, and you couldn’t solve the problem, then you should be able to put out a sea anchor, or drop anchor, until someone can come help you.

• The wing engine is a different engine than your main. You need to stock an extra set of air filters, fuel filters, oil filters, impellers and more.

• The folding prop on the wing engine (at least on my boat) is prone to opening when it isn’t supposed to, particularly when reversing, and can be annoying.

• Generally, when the main quits, the reason is fuel related. Having the wing won’t save you when you have bad fuel, or no fuel.


On the other hand, there are some good reasons FOR having a wing engine:


• I always hear about the boats fishing in the Bering Sea with single engine and no backup. It is true, but it is also misleading. Most of those boats have an engineer who is qualified to rebuild the engine if they needed to.

• The wing engines don’t cost much, and Nordhavn assigns them important duties. Typically, the wing engine powers the hydraulics. This gives you plenty of power to the thrusters when at low rpm on the main.

• If your main engine does ever quit, it won’t be on a nice sunny day in calm seas. Murphy’s law clearly states that it will be blowing 30+ and the current will be flowing against the wind. With a wing engine you’ll be running again within seconds, without a wing engine you’ll have a mess.

• When you go to sell the boat, the buyer is going to want a wing engine, and you’ll find that the boat is harder to sell.

• Although you do have to maintain the wing engine, they tend to only get run a few hours a month. Changing the oil once a year is no big deal.

• More likely than losing an engine is tangling your prop in a net, or banging it on a rock. The wing engine will be your only way of getting to shore when this happens.


I tried to do an unbiased list of pros and cons, but as you can probably tell, I’m very biased towards having a wing engine. I wouldn’t own a boat without either twins or a wing.


-Ken W






Thank you Ken for your assessment of the pros and cons of a wing engine. I agree with all your points with a couple of minor exceptions. The wing on the smaller Nordhavns do not provide any auxiliary services, they drive the prop shaft and that’s about it. The other point is that I’ve heard of boats with wing engines getting caught in nets and the wing was disabled due to a big mass of net entangling both props.


The most powerful point I think for getting the wing engine is the resale value. So many people follow the lead of others, i.e. if everyone else is getting the wing engine then I should too.


Thanks again Ken!


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